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MBY 27:1-4 The Positioning of the Tefillin (part 1)
MBY 27:1-4 The Positioning of the Tefillin (part 1)
In this siman, we will learn many “cardinal rules” about the proper positioning of the ‘batim’ (tefillin boxes) and ‘retzuos’ (straps) of the tefillin ‘shel yad’ and ‘shel rosh’. I say “cardinal” because it is completely possible that a person – with sincere intentions – will put on his tefillin, but because it is not laid in the right place or in the right way, he does not fulfill the mitzvah! (Ed: Unfortunately, this happens daily, probably in every single shul in the world! In case you are a bit cynical and wondering why the halacha would be so ‘nitpicky’ about a mitzvah – after all, the person meant well – think about the analogy of a ten-digit phone number: a person can get 9 out of 10 digits right, but without the tenth, he is not going to get through to the desired party, even though he “meant well”! – Analogy heard from Rabbi Kalman Rosenbaum, Headmaster of Torah Day School of Atlanta)

Rules of positioning the tefillin
1) Rule #1: The tefillin ‘shel yad’ must be placed on the “weak” arm. For most people, that is the left, but for many (yours truly included) it is the right. (Note: Below we will learn just how to classify a person who is dexterous in both hands, i.e. classic ambidextrous or otherwise.)

2) Rule #2: The ‘bayis’ of the ‘shel yad’ should not be placed too high or too low on the upper arm. Here’s the formula: If one had an X-ray machine, he could see his entire upper-arm bone (I’m not sure of its clinical name), which extends upward to his shoulder. The proper place of the ‘shel yad’ – according to most opinions – is somewhere on the lower half of that bone, but not too close to the elbow. Practically, this means that the entire ‘bayis’ should be resting on the curvature of the biceps muscle. When one flexes his arm at the elbow, he should be able to fit two fingers comfortably between his elbow and the base of the ‘bayis’. If the ‘bayis’ looks like it is hanging over the curvature on both sides, he may want to consider getting smaller tefillin! (Note: There is a minority opinion which permits the box to extend above the mid-point. This opinion may be relied upon when there is no other option. There is no opinion which allows the ‘bayis’ to be too close to the elbow!)

3) Rule #3: When the ‘bayis’ is tightened around the arm, it should be angled down slightly toward his heart, not upward toward the ceiling.

(The Shulchan Aruch briefly discusses the proper placement of the ‘shel yad’ for one whose one hand or arm is amputated, r”l. We will not go into that detail presently.)

4) Rule #4: The knot which forms the letter ‘yud’ that is close to the ‘bayis’ of the ‘shel yad’ should actually touch the bayis – always! Many tefillin-sellers will suggest or affix a piece of sinew-string which basically ties the knot to the ‘bayis’.

5) Rule #5: The ‘bayis’ should be placed on the arm in such a way that the ‘yud’-knot is on the inside of the ‘bayis’, and the wider part of the base, where the ‘retzua’ passes through (called ‘ma’avarta’ - passageway), is at the top, closer to the shoulder. You will note that these conditions make it necessary for “righty” and a “lefty” to obtain different kinds of ‘shel yad’. (Note: If a lefty had to borrow the tefillin of a righty, in a pinch, or vice versa, that may be done. In that case, it is preferable that the ‘bayis’ be turned around 180-degrees and positioned “upside-down”. In that way, the knot will still face inward, even though the ‘ma’avarta’ will be at the bottom rather than at the top.)

6) Rule #6: No separating barriers (Heb: ‘chatzitza’) should come between the tefillin and the body – especially the ‘bayis’ and the part of the ‘retzua’ that holds the ‘bayis’ down to the arm. This applies to the ‘shel rosh’ as well. For example, a person should make sure that his sleeve is not stuck under the ‘bayis’ of the ‘shel yad’, not his ‘yarmulke’ under his ‘shel rosh’! In cases of casts or bandages, a ‘shaila’ should be asked. (Note: Because there is a minority opinion – held by the Rashb”a - that is more lenient about ‘chatzitzos’ with regard to tefillin, particularly with the ‘shel rosh’!)

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